My father, long retired and recently afraid of becoming irrelevant, has become a pest. A master gardener, himself, he has volunteered to teach the Wampanoag children of Cape Cod how to grow vegetables the way 80 year old white men do - by stabbing cold metal hand shovels into the sandy soil and throwing dry seeds in the gaping wounds. The Wampanoag women of Cape Cod prefer their traditional methods. The warm heels of their feet create the needed homes for the pregnant seeds. Dad visits their community garden unannounced, uninvited, and unaware he may be perceived as a great white heron in a floppy hat attempting to poach fish from their pond. The tortured history here would recommend a gentler approach, but he is forever surprised by the frosty welcome. He suspects they want his money more than his help. His plans for Thanksgiving, my sister and I think, are bound to make matters worse. Luvgood Carp, Editor-in-Chief
Monthly Archives: April 2023
Absurdistan: Love and Geopolitics
Gary Shteyngart’s Absurdistan is a geopolitical romp that ends on September 10, 2001. But the book was published in 2006 – so make no mistake – 9/11 hangs over the narrative like an ominous cloud. Don’t make this mistake either – though 9/11 was a tragedy and geopolitical catastrophe, the novel is a raunchy and satirical examination of life when you’re a geopolitical pawn. And we’re all geopolitical pawns.
As the narrator, Misha Borisovich Vainberg, tells us in the prologue, this is a “book about love. But it’s also a book about geography.” The story opens on June 15, 2001. Misha is 30 years old and the son of the 1238th richest man in Russia. That’s because his father is a kleptocrat.
During the 1990s Misha attended Accidental College in the mid-west. As a result he adores America and rap music. His rapper name is Snack Daddy, because he loves all the snacks that have turned him into a self-described “fatso”. Unfortunately, his father called him back to Russia, and he is stuck there because dad killed a politically connected Oklahoman in St. Petersburg. Now the U.S. won’t let Misha back.
Misha hates Russia and its corrupt transition from the Soviet Union – even though he has benefitted tremendously from that corruption. “These miscreants were our country’s rulers. To survive in their world, one has to wear many hats – perpetrator, victim, silent bystander.” He’s desperate to get back to his girlfriend in the Bronx – so desperate he travels to Absurdistan, where he has been promised a Belgian passport that will enable him to finally return to the U.S.
Absurdistan does not exist in the real world. I googled it. However, in the novel it is one of the Stans in the former Soviet Union. It consists of several ethnic groups, and they all hate each other. As soon as Misha shows up, civil war breaks out and the borders are closed. Each ethnic group wants to use Misha for its own political purposes, and Misha wants to use them to escape to the Bronx and his girlfriend. Sex, humor, and violence ensue.
Similar to Candide, Misha is a “holy fool” who is wrong about pretty much everything. Near the novel’s end he confesses, “I thought I was Different and had a Special Story to tell but I guess I’m not and I don’t.” Fortunately, he’s wrong about that as well.
Gladiola Overdrive, Chief Editor
Each Spring Beckons Me Out the Door
A fuzzy pink sweater adorns the cherry tree and all the ladies half my age are smiling at me. Or so it seems - maybe they're just smiling near me. It's hard to see with such watery eyes, as if I'm looking through melting ice. Each spring beckons me out the door, but I'm moving slower than the year before and can't keep up as the ladies walk past. When did these women get so fast? Luvgood Carp, Editor-in-Chief
Cerebral Thoughts on Art’s Entirely Benevolent Contribution to Civilization
I have drawn a portrait of God and He looks like me. Not you. Me. Saffron Crow, Art Editor
Victory City – Miracles at Work
Salman Rushdie knows how to tell an engaging story filled with humor and tragedy. He’s done so time and again, and Victory City is the latest addition to his catalogue.
The story opens with the purported recent discovery of an epic poem written by Pampa Kampana in southern India during the 14th century. The narrator is a “spinner of yarns” who retells the story in “plainer language.” The epic begins with an unknown king losing a “no-name” battle. This unlucky king is beheaded by the opposing army. The women in the conquered city are even more unlucky. As tradition demands, these women commit suicide by walking into a bonfire. That’s what Pampa’s mother does – leaving the nine-year old an orphan who must now fend for herself.
After witnessing the mass suicide, Pampa makes a decision. “She would not sacrifice her body merely to follow dead men into the afterworld.” A goddess (also named Pampa) hears this and grants her a blessing that changes young Pampa’s life. She begins to speak with the majestic voice of a goddess and becomes a prophet and miracle worker.
The goddess tells Pampa “you will fight to make sure that no more women are ever burned in this fashion, and that men start considering women in new ways, and you will live just long enough to witness both your success and failure.” That takes 247 years. And sometimes a blessing can be a curse, because 247 years means she will see everyone she loves die.
A few years later Pampa gets hold of magic seeds, and from these seeds Bisnaga (meaning Victory City) grows. In Bisnaga women are free to work at any job they want. The arts are not frivolous. “They are essential to a society’s health and well-being.” But one person’s art is another person’s porn, and every action has a reaction. Each success is countered by religious extremism until the prophecy is finally fulfilled.
No surprises here – Rushdie has personal experience with religious extremism’s brutality, and concerns about religious extremism are as relevant today as ever. So the story is absorbing for that reason alone.
But this is Salman Rushdie, so the story is much more than a battle between feminism and religious patriarchies. It is also about the importance of stories, because even Pampa doesn’t live forever. People die and cities collapse into ruins, but some stories live on. “All that remains is this city of words. Words are the only victors.” But that assumes the stories survive – that books and women aren’t fuel for bonfires.
Remember, Pampa’s poem opens with a forgotten king and a no-name battle. His story did not survive time’s ravages. And it is only through chance that Pampa’s does – after 450 years of silence. According to our “spinner of yarns” the poem was only recently found in a clay pot among ancient ruins.
Gladiola Overdrive, Chief Editor
Cerebral Thoughts on How to Live a Purpose-Driven Life
When I see or hear someone doing or saying something I find offensive or the least bit disruptive to my sense of propriety, I ask myself a question. Does this idiot’s conduct affect me? If I can come up with some possible way it does, I immediately tell the degenerate to stop, or I will post his picture on Grumblr where me and my fellow like-minded Grumblrs will Grumbl at him.
If the answer is no, this malcontent’s conduct doesn’t affect me in the slightest, I ask another question. Is this pervert finding joy in doing whatever it is she’s doing? If so, I immediately tell her to stop. And if she doesn’t, it’s straight to Grumblr with her.
Knowgood Carp, Owner of all the Hotels on Block Island (and Some in Connecticut)